I watch Vera Stanhope mysteries on TV, but I must confess that I haven’t read many Ann Cleeves mysteries in book format. In fact, I only read one, The Glass Room, and it was back in 2014! This is definitely something I should work on, because Ann Cleeves delivers a solid plot with characters I enjoy, and instead of wasting my time with some stories that hook you up but stretch your credibility beyond reasonable limits (I’m thinking Domestic noir, Girl on the train and friends), I should turn to classic British countryside whodunits such as this one.
The Darkest Evening starts with a snow storm, something that’s always nice to read about when you’re at home in summer (even if the weather is not really summery these days. Vera takes a wrong turn on the road, and she finds an empty car, doors open, stuck in a snow drift. Inside the car is a baby in his snowsuit, unharmed, but not trace of any adult around. Vera takes the toddler to the nearest shelter she finds on that road: her cousins’ big mansion.
If you’re familiar with Vera Stanhope, you probably know of her stinginess, her propensity to call everyone “love” and her dogged determination to solve crimes, even if it means bossing her team around at ungodly hours or in bad weather to follow some clue. I remembered from TV episodes that her father was an excentric and raised her on a lonely, run-down house on the moor. In this book, we get to learn that her father was the black sheep of an otherwise rather wealthy family. The Stanhopes are the lords and ladies of the manor, overlooking the villages and the farms but the manor itself is in bad financial shape.
I enjoyed this book with its numerous characters with secrets and backstories, the gossips and lies and the reveal totally took me by surprise. It’s always fun to see people underestimate Vera because of the way she talks or walks. I could picture Brenda Blethyn playing in this story. I don’t want to wait another 6 years to read another book by Ann Cleeves!